It is quite a common occurrence, for the average person, to lose between fifty to one-hundred hairs from their head and to a vast majority, such an incident seems entirely inconsequential. However, what many people may not come to realize, is the abundance of genetic data that can be extracted and analyzed from just a single strand of hair. Heather Dewey-Hagborg, an information artist and educator, created a project called Stranger Visions, starting in 2012 up until 2014, in which she began collecting seemingly trifling human traces left by strangers in public places, such as hairs taken from a bathroom, or chewing gum picked up from the sidewalk outside of a restaurant, and extracting and compiling the common sections of DNA that would define certain physical characteristics of the human genome. She would then take the DNA traits, and with a program she coded herself, generate and construct life-sized 3-D models of the resulting portraits. Hagborg utilized resources stemming from biology, computer science, and material engineering and worked alongside biologists at Genspace, a community biology laboratory in Brooklyn, and expanding upon a research group in Basel Switzerland, to extract the genetic information from the DNA evidence and analyze the resulting data to construct the portrait models. Her work and sculptures can be found in the Clocktower Gallery in Brooklyn, where the public can come to view her pieces and develop the mindset that seemingly small traces of human existence, such as hair or saliva, can hold powerful information in regards to genetics. By establishing Stranger Visions in this manner, Hagborg is able to raise important questions about the advancement of technology and the potential impact of biological surveillance and genetic determinism in both modern and future societies and sciences.
~ Amber Tang 🙂